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Jewish World Review June 28, 2000 /25 Sivan, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

Gore fatigue sets in -- STILL ANOTHER TOP OFFICIAL at the Justice Department has concluded that the attorney general should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the vice president and his fund-raising -- excuse me, finance-related activities. That's all poor Al Gore needs right now, just as his campaign is beginning to founder.

Not that Attorney General Magoo is likely to see any more reason to investigate her fellow Democrat in an election year than she did back in 1997. Even if evidence of his questionable solicitation of campaign contributions -- in the White House and at a Buddhist temple -- -continues to mount.

The always astute vice president thought it was just Community Outreach, remember? Although not even he says he believes that story anymore. Surely no one else ever did.

Can all that illegal fund-raising at the White House have happened while the vice president was away? He told one investigator that he'd had to excuse himself after drinking a lot of iced tea. That's his latest story, but the alibis all kind of run together by now. It's summertime and the livin' is sleazy. Who can work up any interest in all those old scandals anymore? Call it Gore Fatigue.

If the third time is indeed the charm, and Janet Reno actually submits the vice president's case to a special prosecutor, I'll have to completely reconsider my opinion of her as hopelessly prejudiced.

Instead, she may be only hopelessly erratic. From Waco to Miami, from 1993 to 2000, she's careened all over the road, sideswiping one competent law-enforcement type after another: Louis Freeh, Charles La Bella, Robert Conrad. ... All of whom have recommended a special prosecutor in this case, and all of whom have been turned down -- preparatory to being ostracized by the administration's true believers.

Mr. Conrad, supervisor of this latest task force the Clinton bunch has required, is only the latest to recommend a special counsel for the higher-ups, and he may be the latest to be fully and duly ignored. Mr. Conrad has been heading the Justice Department's bottom-up investigation of the fund-raising scandal, which Janet Reno has made sure never gets too far up.

Al Gore may be right: There really is no controlling legal authority in this administration. Because there is no real respect for law, only an intense interest in getting around it, and a practiced finesse at it. From the president on down, that attitude infects everything from the Fund-Raising Scandal That Won't Die to the legal contortions that the Justice Department has gone through to avoid investigating it too thoroughly.

It all figures. Any time you put a slick operator in charge of an operation, he tends to set the pace, the style and the general ethical tone of the whole team. Poor Al Gore picked up the technique in no time. And soon enough, the voters, without quite being able to put a finger on it, started saying, "I don't know, there's just something I don't like about him.''

The vice president brings to mind the clean preppie whom the bosses of some shady corporation have decided to bring on board as a front man. Before you know it, he's showing them how to do it. The thing about corruption is that it corrupts.

At last count, the Justice Department had charged some two dozen individuals and one corporation with illegal campaign contributions. Yep, the department has been after every lower-down in sight, and has been just as energetic in blocking any real investigation of the higher-ups. Janet Reno is going to investigate, all right -- not the scandal, but whoever leaked the latest word about it to the public. The message is clear: Whistle-blowers beware.

Should the attorney general actually ask for a special prosecutor to investigate the vice president at this ridiculously late and embarrassing date, she'll not only have weaved all over the road, but off and back on again. By now, any interest in explaining her erratic course wanes, much like interest in the Clinton Scandals themselves. There are so many to follow, and they never really go away.

Maybe the architects could add a little annex to the Clinton Library when it goes up here in Little Rock down by the River Market with its coffee houses and beer bars. It could be used as an office for whoever's investigating the current Clinton-Gore Scandal, so he'd be conveniently close to the presidential archives.

This administration is due to end in seven months, but any kind of real closure -- legal, ethical, or logical -- still seems an impossible dream. All those blots seem too numerous to forget, but too familiar to rouse any real indignation. The worst thing about ethical mediocrity is that one grows used to it.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate